by Janis on 8th June 2021 / 2 comments

A touching tribute to the genius Vincent Van Gogh

The beautiful and modest Saint-Paul de Mausole monastery stands adjacent to the ancient Roman site of Glanum in the enchanting region of Provence in southern France.

If there was ever a place that only happy thoughts pass through my mind, it was here, in the town of Saint-Rémy-de-Provence; it is captivating.

The Romanesque monastery was built during the 11th-century in the foothills of the Alpilles mountains. Over the subsequent centuries, the monastery became a psychiatric asylum.

The resident monks devoted themselves to treating those who required solace and care from the suffering of dementia. Saint-Paul de Mausole, to this day, continues to be a psychiatric health institution.

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Visiting Saint-Paul de Mausole

Arriving at the tranquil monastery in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence

As you wander through the wrought-iron gates of Saint-Paul de Mausole, you instantly feel a wave of gentleness breathe through you. Peace descends as your stroll along the dusty path, dappled in Provence sunshine from the Cypress and Plane trees.

You can make out the demure chapel at the far end of the avenue beside the monastery's prominent square belltower.

A brass statue of Vince van Gogh clutching a bunch of sunflowers on the approach to the Monastery Saint-Paul de Mausole, just outside St Remy-de-Provence.
Vincent Van Gogh sculpture
The gravel, tree-lined path to the stone Monastery of Saint-Paul de Mausole in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, France
The entrance to Saint-Paul de Mausole
As you approach the chapel, you'll spot the captivating and poignant bronze sculpture of Vincent Van Gogh. In his left arm, Vincent clutches a bunch of freshly picked sunflowers, while in his right, he clasps a single bloom down towards his feet.

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The arrival of Vincent Van Gogh

His year of strength and creative inspiration

To imply that the genius Vincent Van Gogh was a troubled soul is an understatement; his incredible artwork hides a million stories that we'll never truly comprehend.

Vincent Van Gogh voluntarily entered Saint-Paul de Mausole Asylum from the city of Arles where he was living. Just southwest of Saint-Rémy de Provence. Van Gogh lived in Arles the year prior to arriving in Saint-Rémy and where he hoped to set up an art collective with his often-arrogant friend Paul Gaugin.

Neat rows of trimmed lavender bushes in the gardens of Saint-Paul de Mausole Monastery, Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, France
The lavender gardens at Saint-Paul de Mausole monastery

Needless to say, this dream never came to fruition, and it was in December 1888 that Vincent Van Gogh severed off part of his own left ear.

Vincent was only at Saint-Paul de Mausole for just over a year. From the 8th of May 1889 until the 16th of May 1890. During this time, Van Gogh was treated with care and humanity by Doctor Peyron, a French Naval doctor, along with the devotion from the nuns and nurses.

A print of Vincent Van Gogh’s ‘Irises’ on an eternal wall in the gardens of the Monastery of Saint-Paul de Mausole in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, France
Vincent Van Gogh’s ‘Irises'

Vincent gradually strengthened with his unique treatment. His time in the asylum was one of his most creative and inspirational, producing over 150 works of art.

A few of his pieces were 'The Starry Night' and 'The Irises', the third edition of 'Vincent Room in Arles'.

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The tranquil cloister at Saint-Paul de Mausole

Arriving at the peaceful courtyard
When visiting Saint-Paul de Mausole, utmost respect and tranquillity must be shown, as patients are presently being cared for within the monastery. Therefore, it is only partially open to the public.
View from the cloisters into the inner courtyard of Saint-Paul-de-Mausole where Vincent Van Gough spent some of his time and created some of his notable masterpieces while being cared for.
The courtyard garden within Saint-Paul de Mausole
The cream stoned collonaded cloister of the Monastery of Saint-Paul de Mausole with views onto the garden beyond
The collonaded cloister in Saint-Paul de Mausole
You enter the monastery into a shaded and peaceful collonaded cloister. This surrounds the perfectly manicured, symmetrical courtyard garden, with charming French Blue window shutters thrown open to let in the welcoming sunshine.

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The Vincent Van Gogh Museum at Saint-Paul de Mausole

The stark reality of a troubled soul

The museum for Vincent Van Gogh is located on the first floor, and as you walk up the stairwell, there are incredible works of art for sale, which have been painted by local patients.

At the top of the stairs, you are greeted with the view that Vincent Van Gogh would have seen, the captivating Provence countryside unfolding as far as the eye can see.

A small stone room in the Monastery of Saint-Paul de Mausole displaying prints of Van Gogh’s working, including a work depicting a room at his sanctuary.
Van Gogh’s stay at Saint-Paul de Mausole

The rooms dedicated to Van Gogh have been re-created for you to envisage the surroundings and the minimal conditions that Vincent would have been confined to.

Van Gogh had two rooms during his year at Saint-Paul de Mausole; one was his bedroom and the other an art studio.

As you can imagine, it was a very minimal life for the patients, and their possessions were modest too. The bedroom re-created for Vincent was very simple, comprising of a bed, his few belongings and a desk and chair.

The view through the doorway into Vincent Van Gough’s room in Saint-Paul-de-Mausole. The basic looking room painted in a pile green features a small iron bed.
Vincent Van Gogh’s re-created bedroom
Light flowing into a stark room in the Monastery of Saint-Paul de Mausole with just a small table and chair in the corner.
The minimal belongings

It gave you a profound feeling of loneliness and how delicate life can be.

Just adjacent to Van Gogh's bedroom is a room dedicated to Saint-Paul de Mausole institute and psychiatry history during the 19th-century.

Also, on the stark walls were heart-breaking stories and pictures about some of the patients and how they were cared for and the undertaken treatment. It was very moving and touching.

Take a look

If you’re visiting Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, why not extended your stay and tour around the Provencal countryside. Here’s a little post to get you inspired to start ‘An Enchanting Visit to Provence’.

The captivating Provence gardens in Saint-Paul de Mausole

The scent of lavender amongst the French sunshine
We then strolled outside into the gardens at the rear of the monastery, and you instantly appreciated where Vincent Van Gogh acquired his dramatic inspiration. You felt like you had ambled into one of his works of art.
A view from the back of the gardens of the stone Monastery of Saint-Paul de Mausole, Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, France
Van Gogh’s inspiration at Saint-Paul de Mausole monastery
Rows and rows of bristling lavender balls, elegant Cypress trees marching into the distance, and charred sunflowers were straining to lift their heads from the sun-kissed skies.
A drying sunflower head, drooping amongst the wildflowers of the garden of the Monastery Saint-Paul de Mausole.
Sun-kissed Sunflowers in Provence
Dotted throughout the front and rear gardens are examples of Van Gogh’s work while confined to the asylum, and you are drawn into the alluring essence of Provence.

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    1. Author

      Yes, it was gorgeous, I could have sat in their garden for hours. I do love Provence and Vincent Van Gogh, so this was perfect for me.

      Thanks for your comments guys, I hope you are both keeping well.

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